Heritage Festival Brings Dancing, Drums, And Culture

“We are the proud brown sisters of Lambda Theta Nu!” shouted three Latina USF students in Harney Plaza last Thursday, stomping their feet and clapping their hands in a traditional “stepping” routine.

The sisters of Lambda Theta Nu joined the Latina sorority at USF in order to celebrate their shared experience as female Latin American college students. For them, stepping is a way of showing pride in their sorority and their culture.

In another number, the Lamba Theta Nu sisters each took out a pair of machetes, which they rhythmically clanked together. The long silver blades created a loud clanking each time they touched, as the sisters danced in well-coordinated steps, creating a visual and audio performance. The machete dance was meaningful to the Lamda Theta Nu sisters; more than just a flashy show. Senior Anita Buitrago explained, “We wanted to show that women could also step with machetes.” The machete dance is a traditional Mexican art, usually performed by men to display their masculinity, according to Buitrago. The Latina students use the masculine dance as a source of female empowerment.

The San Francisco Taiko Dojo group performed a portion of their drum set at the Harney Nooner Heritage Festival on Friday.  Photo by Melissa Stihl/Foghorn
The San Francisco Taiko Dojo group performed a portion of their drum set at the Harney Nooner Heritage Festival on Friday. Photo by Melissa Stihl/Foghorn

Lambda Theta Nu was one of four culturally focused USF student groups to participate in the first Heritage Harney Nooner, sponsored by Campus Activities Board (CAB). CAB decided to bring these groups out to the center of campus that day to show the many cultures that make up the university. The event was wrapped up with a bang, literally, with the Japanese drumming, dancing, and martial arts of the  off-campus organization, San Francisco Taiko Dojo.

USF is home to roughly 20 culturally-focused clubs and Greek organizations. U.S. News and World Report ranked the University of San Francisco as one of the 20 most ethnically diverse universities in the country in the category “National Universities-Doctoral. CAB Music Director Evelyn Obamos wanted to bring this diversity into the forefront for an afternoon. “We have such a diverse school,” she said. “I think we should show it.” The festival invited clubs to perform a cultural song or dance, or just show up to promote their organization.

In addition to Lamda Theta Nu’s dance, another highlight performance was from Hui O Hawaii Club, which performed several Hula dances to celebrate the diverse culture of the Hawaiian Islands. The dances varied from slow, swaying hula to the rapid hip-shaking Tahitian dances. This diversity represents the Hawaiian islands, where, senior Mahe Lum said, “everyone is a mix of everything.” Lum is a quarter Hawaiian, a quarter Chinese, and half Filipino. She co-founded the Hui O Hawaii Club her freshman year because she wanted to have a “halau,” or hula family, like she had in Hawaii, where she began dancing at age six.

Other performances included a traditional Salvadorian dance performed by the Latin American Student Organization, where the male and female dancers donned elaborate costumes and acted out a love story, followed by a short hip hop performance by Kasamahan, a club for Filipino students.

The Heritage Harney Nooner also provided an opportunity for other culturally-focused clubs to mingle in the plaza, and attract new members. Junior Shelly Saini, events coordinator for the Indian Student Organization (ISO), said cultural clubs can help students feel a sense of community at a large and diverse school. “I knew I wanted to join an Indian club when I got to USF,” said Saini, who joined ISO her freshman year and has been involved ever since. “I wanted to get to know other Indians and learn more about the culture.” ISO holds events for different Indian holidays and promotes social justice issues. Saini also pointed out that members do not need to be of Indian descent to join ISO. She said, “Half our members are not even Indian; they are just interested in the culture.”

San Francisco Taiko Dojo performed last to give a sample of their full show, which they travel throughout the Bay Area and the world to perform. Dressed in black martial arts uniforms with purple belts and headbands, the Japanese drummers showed their art to be an exhilarating combination of pounding percussion, loud chanting and dramatic movements, including jumping and dancing around the drums as they played.

The event was successful in the eyes of CAB member Obamos, who began planning for it last semester with the help of the Culturally Focused Club Council. Obamos said she was just glad to see everyone out there enjoying themselves.

Those who want to see more cultural performances by USF students can look forward to Culturescape, a signature event of the International Student Association, which will take place Nov. 20 in the Presentation Theatre.

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